Legal disclaimer on Copyright / Intellectual Property Issues: The author of these guidelines, Wesley Fryer, is not a lawyer and the information included on this website and book project should not be interpreted as official, legal advice. Copyright laws vary by country. For legal advice about intellectual property issues in the jurisdiction where you live pertaining to specific copyright situations, consult a bar-certified lawyer in your area.

Copyright, Fair Use & Intellectual Property Resources

  1. Copyright and Fair Use Resources from the Media Education Lab
  2. 12 Most Picture Perfect Ways To Ensure You’re Legally Using Online Photos (26 Mar 2013)

Because of the importance and relevance of this information to ALL learners playing with media, an updated version of this chapter from the eBook, “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing,” is reprinted/available below.

This short video provides several suggested websites for creating presentations with licensed media. These include Photos for Class, MorgueFilePixabayThe Noun Project and Haiku Deck. A YouTube version is also available.

Copyright, fair use, and intellectual property issues are important for students, educators, and other citizens. As digital learners not only “consuming” media but also CREATING and SHARING media, we need simple and accurate guidelines to follow as we are “playing with media.” The guidelines below are designed primarily for people in the United States, but may apply to other locations. You may want to use the following mnemonic to remember copyright and fair use guidelines relating to media sharing and fair use.

Harry Potter Can Fly

Harry Potter Can Fly
H = Homegrown
P = Public Domain
C = Creative Commons
F = Fair Use

Media you create yourself is “homegrown.” Pictures in an old shoebox in your grandmother’s attic, which she gives you permission to photograph or scan and share on the Internet, are an example of homegrown media. You own the copyright to homegrown media, so you decide how to use it digitally. Generally you should obtain permission from people whose photographs you take and use online. You cannot take photographs of copyrighted or trademarked icons (like Disney’s Mickey Mouse logo) and use them for any purpose, like a commercial product. There ARE some limits to homegrown media uses.

Public Domain
Public domain works are shared by everyone. Some types of works are explicitly published in the public domain (like photographs by NASA) while others “pass into the public domain” after their period of copyright protection expires. As the Digital Copyright Slider illustrates, it can be challenging to determine if certain works remain protected by copyright or are in the public domain. Websites like WikiPedia generally provide explicit information about the copyright status of included works, like photographs, noting if a work is believed to be in the public domain. Public domain works can be used for commercial or non-commercial purposes without getting anyone’s permission, and are NOT subject to “fair use” provisions of U.S. copyright law. Their potential use and re-use is unrestricted.

Logo Creative Commons

Creative Commons
Creative Commons licensed-media are shared “up front” by copyright holders for sharing and re-use under certain terms. This means “permission has already been granted” for you to use these media materials in your own projects, as long as you comply with the stated Creative Commons terms. Creative Commons provides free licenses to anyone publishing media. For example, the “Playing with Media” eBook is licensed under Creative Commons. Millions of Creative Commons licensed images, audio files, and video files are now available. By using Creative Commons licensed media in your projects (giving proper attribution to the author/owner) you can comply with US copyright law AND support a growing culture of online collaboration. You can also support the culture of legal, online sharing by licensing YOUR shared works online under Creative Commons. Learn more by watching Creative Commons videos. (

Fair Use
Fair use provisions are included in U.S. Copyright law. These parts of our legal code provide guidelines and criteria for determining when specific uses of copyrighted works ARE permissible and legal WITHOUT granted permission from the author / owner. Fair use is NOT a right, it is a legal defense in the event someone is accused of copyright infringement. The law does NOT provide “bright line” rules for determining fair use. This was attempted by the 1986 Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Media, but those guidelines are NOT the law and should not be construed as such because in some cases they are unnecessarily and overly restrictive. The short video chapter on “Fair Use” (1 min, 50 sec) included in Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University’s video “A Fair(y) Use Tale” illustrates key concepts of fair use in U.S. copyright law exclusively using short clips from copyrighted Disney movies. The full video is 10 minutes, 14 seconds long.

Learning About Attribution with WikiPedia
One of the many virtues of WikiPedia is the explicit copyright and usage rights information which its authors and editors post with photos. The following copyright information accompanies the famous “Blue Marble” photograph taken by NASA astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
As a classroom teacher discussing copyright and fair use with your students, utilize WikiPedia images to discuss usage rights and published terms for reusing media files. NASA images are some of the best to utilize to show examples of public domain images.



Anyone who tells you copyright and fair use issues are simple in the United States is either naive, poorly informed, or both. Intellectual property law IS complicated, and conversations about copyright issues tend to leave participants more confused rather than clear about guidelines. Because of this reality, I have tried to make this chapter as brief and concise as possible. Most people “playing with media” do not want to take a semester course or get a degree on copyright, they simply need clear guidelines.

Attribution, in the form of a thorough “Works Cited” section of a document or project, does NOT guarantee full copyright compliance in the United States. Judges ruling on intellectual property cases never write, “The defendant created a great bibliography, so I find find him not guilty of these charges.” Properly attributing sources in writing and media projects is an important part of “how we work” as academics and scholars. Attribution is also an important part of Creative Commons license compliance. As teachers and leaders, we need to model attribution “best practices” for our students and encourage them to do the same.

Attribution of sources should be specific, not general. Frequently in school media projects around the United States, however, teachers accept student work which either lacks attribution or lacks attribution specificity. We would never accept the following entry in a written, student bibliography in a research paper: “I found this information in the school library.”

We should not accept student media projects which include similar, non-specific attribution statements like “Images from Google” or “Images from Flickr.” Attribution takes time, but it is an important part of what we do as ethical writers, researchers, and media communicators. Utilize free, online resources to streamline the attribution process.

I used the free website service to create the attribution citations for this book. BibMe is web-based and permits users to create separate bibliographies accessible from any Internet-connected computer web browser. Entries can be formatted in MLA, APA, or other formats with the click of a mouse. Remember “the ethic of minimal clicks?” Cloud-based services like BibMe support this ethic. Other outstanding attribution sites and tools are available and should be used by your students.

This chapter is intended to be a practical guide for students, teachers, librarians, school administrators, and others creating and sharing media online. In the United States, we have generous fair use laws and need to exercise our rights of free expression. The Media and Education Lab at Temple University has an outstanding collection of resources on Copyright and Fair Use, which also encourage the EXERCISE of free speech rights in digital spaces by students as well as educators. In addition to those resources, check out these copyright links:


The following three minute video interview with Kristin Hokanson, focusing on copyright and fair use issues for teachers in the classroom, is an example of quick-edit videography and is included in the eBook “Playing with Media” in the Video chapter.

Please stay up to date on “Playing with Media” eBook and project resources by “liking” the official book page on Facebook:

Image and Video Attribution:

1- Fryer, R. (2011, June 4). Harry Potter Can Fly! by Rachel Fryer. Flickr – Photo Sharing. Retrieved July 4, 2011.

2- Czerepak, G. (2009, March 18). Creative Commons: Proposed Protection Categories. Retrieved June 27, 2011.

3- The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg. (1972, December 7). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved June 4, 2011.

4- Hokansen‬‏, K., & Fryer, W. (2011, June 28). Copyright Advice for Teachers from Kristin Hokansen‬‏. YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved July 14, 2011.

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